LYNCHBURG — Ny’Rek Wheeler let the tears flow down his face.

They were tears of relief and tears of joy.

“From this year to last year, we hadn’t beat them. Not once,” Wheeler said of Jefferson Forest, George Washington’s opponent in the Class 4 state semifinals at University of Lynchburg on Tuesday night. “A win like this, going to states, it’s just so emotional.”

George Washington, bounced from last season’s playoffs by JF and thwarted again this season by the Cavaliers in the Region 4D title game 12 days ago, got revenge with a 53-38 victory at a jam-packed Turner Gymnasium.

And for Wheeler, this one was sweet. The power forward scored 13 points, was one of three GW players in double figures and downed three 3-pointers as part of the Eagles’ stellar night from beyond the arc.

“I’m really emotional, because this is something we’ve been dreaming about for a really long time,” Wheeler said. “To go to states, to put a ring on a finger, and this dream is coming true.”

GW (23-2) advances to a boys basketball championship for the first time since 2007, when it lost to Highland Springs.

Next stop: The Siegel Center in Richmond, where GW will play Louisa on Thursday at 8 p.m. Louisa defeated Lake Taylor 74-67 in the other Class 4 semifinal Tuesday evening.

In Lynchburg, GW was firing from the beginning. It led 17-6 after the first quarter, courtesy of creating JF turnovers that led to fast-break buckets.

JF cut the deficit to four at halftime and trailed by six headed to the fourth quarter.

But the Cavaliers (25-4), who erased an 11-point deficit in Danville last month to force overtime and then dominate that final frame, led just once, at 2-0, Tuesday. They cut the deficit to two points on a layup by Jordan Richeson early in the third quarter, but could get no closer.

GW stretched out the lead in the fourth quarter, a frame in which it held JF to just three field goals.

“We all went as one [unit],” GW’s Shunta Wilson said. “We executed on them so well at the end. We listened to our coach with everything he said. We put a different defense on them, shut them down, and that was great.”

Wilson led all scorers with 16 points, while Taevon Walden chipped in 10 points and five steals. Carlos Poole shook the rafters with three vicious onehanded slams that punctuated the victory.

“Carlos, that man can get off the floor,” Wheeler said. “He brought a whole lot of umph to the team.”

GW used a 3-1-1 zone defense to frustrate JF down the stretch. JF forward Brock Swaney led his team with 12 points, while Richeson, the two-time reigning Seminole District player of the year who is headed to play at VMI, finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

“Our style of play is extra, extra fast, but tonight we had to have good pace,” GW coach Jermaine Parker said, “slowing it down and really spreading them out and our guys really responded to that.”

GW caused 15 turnovers, held the Cavaliers to 36.4 percent shooting from the field (16 of 44) and just one 3-pointer out of 10 attempts.

The Eagles also weathered a nasty night from the free throw line. They missed their first five foul shots and finished 8 of 17 from the line.

But the Eagles scored in transition, brought JF center Trevor Robinson out from under the basket and out on the wing to defend, and shot 46.7 percent from 3-point range, downing 7 of 15 3s.

GW also used a 3-1-1 defense, which Wilson said was something new.

“A lot of teams don’t see a 3-1-1,” Parker said. “It’s something we want to throw in every once and a while to slow teams down.”

The last time GW advanced to the state championship, in 2007, Wilson was 6 years old. GW basketball wasn’t on his radar back then.

But the senior now has a chance to bring home the first boys basketball state championship trophy in 21 years. The Eagles last won the title in 1998.

“They did a good job of imposing their will on us,” JF coach Cameron Shepherd said. “The things that they’re good at, they did really, really well tonight.”

Photos: JF vs. GW

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